Larry Kiker was a golf guy in a college football world. His buddies, one a Notre Dame fan, the other Michigan, both gave Kiker flags of their school, hoping he would place it, in allegiance, on his driveway on fall Saturdays.
Ever the politician, Kiker took a pass. “He probably just threw them in a box in the garage,” says Alan Mandel, the Michigan man and Kiker’s friend and onetime fellow Fort Myers Beach Town Councilman. “Golf was really his sport.”
Kiker, with a life in three acts — Corporate America executive; Southwest Florida charter boat captain; and upstart fiscally conservative, pro-business politician — died April 23 in Hospice House, where he went after several months of cancer treatments. He was 67.
“He was a phenomenal guy, and a great friend,” says Mandel. “It’s unfortunate his life was cut short, he could have done so much more for the community.”
Kiker, as it is, left a lasting impact on Lee County. His most recent role was county commissioner, elected first in 2012 and reelected in 2016. A Republican, he was chairman of the commission twice, once in 2014 and again in 2018. Prior to the county, Kiker spent six years on the Fort Myers Beach Town Council, five as mayor.
He had several passions on the commission, according to a statement from Lee County, including improving water quality; reducing FEMA flood insurance rates, a mission that included trips to lobby in Washington D.C; conservative budget principles; and cutting taxes, particularly impact fees. Kiker also led the effort to reconstruct the entire length of Estero Boulevard on Fort Myers Beach.
“I never met a public official who seemed to enjoy the political arena more than Larry,” Lee County Commissioner Frank Mann says in the statement. “And he played skillfully in that arena. He was a strong and effective advocate for whatever battle he was fighting. I will miss him on the commission.”
Kiker grew up in Clovis, N.M., a small town east of Albuquerque near the Texas border. He played the drums, which oddly led to a job in computers: IBM, he told the Business Observer in a 2012 interview, wanted musically inclined people because the company reasoned musicians possessed logic and numeric aptitude that could transfer well to technology.
That led to a 20-year career, first with IBM, then Data General and later Sun Microsystems. Known for a somewhat unusual combination of soft-spoken stubbornness, Kiker grew into a consensus-building leader, becoming a go-to person for challenging projects. “Give me the worst you've got,” Kiker would tell his superiors. “When it's fixed I want my next promotion.”
Kiker eventually grew tired of the corporate climb. So he moved to Fort Myers, where he ran a charter fishing business, and later, with his wife, Paula Kiker, Lahaina Realty in Fort Myers Beach.
He also initially got into politics in Fort Myers Beach. His 2012 countywide victory, over longtime County Commissioner Ray Judah, was widely seen as a major upset. But Fort Myers Beach Mayor Anita Cereceda, who worked with Kiker on the Estero Boulevard project, among others, wasn’t surprised, noting Kiker’s “determination and tenacity” when he gets behind an issue.
“Sometimes in politics you get tired, but Larry never seemed to get tired,” says Cereceda. “Larry kept pushing and pushing until he got the job done.”
A memorial service for Kiker is scheduled for Thursday May 2, 5 p.m., at Sanibel Harbour Marriott Resort & Spa, 17260 Harbour Point Drive. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to Hope Hospice at Health Park, 9470 Health Park Circle, Fort Myers, Fl 33908. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is expected to name a replacement for Kiker on the county commission.